Feb 7, 2024 - Politics
Town Talker

D.C.'s RFK Stadium site bill finally sees some action

Illustration of an empty stadium filled only by the silhouette of an absent spectator

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

After months of anticipation, a compromise on Capitol Hill allowed lawmakers to advance a bill that would make possible a new football stadium at the RFK site — D.C.'s next big development project.

Why it matters: D.C. needs to sprint if it wants a once-in-a-generation deal with Washington Commanders owner Josh Harris to rebuild it and design a new riverfront neighborhood.

Driving the news: The House Natural Resources Committee — a panel that usually deals with wildlife or mining policy — approved a bipartisan bill on Tuesday that lets the National Park Service enter into a 99-year lease with D.C., which would allow the development of a stadium district.

  • It's the first action on the bill since the House Oversight Committee — in a rare partnership between conservative chair James Comer and a Democratic mayor — approved the bill last September. It still needs a floor vote to go to the Senate.

What I'm hearing: There were behind-the-scenes negotiations and a full-court press from Mayor Muriel Bowser, who will compete with Maryland and Virginia for the Commanders.

  • Bowser met last Monday for about half an hour with House Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) about the RFK issue, according to a person close to discussions who was not authorized to speak publicly. (The mayor's office declined to offer specifics.)

Details: The bill had stalled over a game of political … football. It originally would have transferred responsibility for the 190-acre federal site to the General Services Administration, which handles the federal government's real estate.

  • But GSA is on a mission to reduce its federal properties and wasn't keen to take RFK even just to lease it to D.C., two sources with knowledge of the negotiations tell Axios.
  • NPS, meanwhile, isn't exactly the kind of agency that jumps into commercial redevelopment projects. But after some wrangling, the bill was amended to strip out GSA and put NPS in charge of entering the lease with D.C.

Other changes ensure that federal taxpayer funds won't be used for "stadium purposes" or on any "costs associated with either the transfer or continued operation of the site."

  • That likely means Uncle Sam won't pick up the tab on potential environmental remediation or infrastructure needs.
  • A last-minute amendment offered by a Republican lawmaker to divert 25% of the future development's revenues to the National Park Service was roundly rejected.

What's next: As a bonus, the changes effectively clear it from a second committee, opening the path for a floor vote. With GSA out of the bill, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who chairs the committee overseeing GSA, no longer expects the legislation to come back to his committee, a spokesperson said.

  • Perry previously sought to bar any public funding for RFK, but he has now softened his tone: "The newest iteration of this bill limits federal liability and restricts federal funding. While I'd prefer to ban all public funding for the project or sell the land to the city, we're moving in the right direction," Perry told Axios in a statement.
  • Comer's spokesperson said he is "determined to advance this bipartisan legislation."

The bottom line: If the Commanders do pick RFK as their next home, D.C.'s best shot at kickoff by 2028 (at which point the team's lease at FedEx Field will have ended) requires getting the bill through Congress ASAP.

💭 Do you remember when one former D.C. council member reimagined RFK with some truly quirky features? You could say Vincent Orange was ahead of his time! Town Talker is a weekly column on local money and power. Send your Super Bowl dip recipes to [email protected]

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